To really understand where the ergordica excels as well as its limitations, it’s helpful to compare it to various other instruments. In this post, I’ll compare it to the harmonica, both chromatic (image below) and diatonic.
The harmonica and ergordica have a lot of similarities. Mainly, they both have free reeds that are sounded by the musician’s breath. And multiple reeds can be sounded simultaneously to produce chords. There are also a lot of difference though. To better explain, I’ll start with a bit of my own experience with harmonicas…
As someone having grown up playing the piano, the first time I picked up a harmonica I was extremely please with the portability but equally displeased with the limitations on what notes could be played. It was a diatonic harmonic I started with, which comes in a specific key, meaning musical pieces in a different key can be difficult if not impossible to play. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed how you can use your breath to rhythmically play chords. And I could tell there was so much potential for being expressive with melodies. Nevertheless, missing notes was pretty much a deal breaker for me as far as really taking up the harmonica. That’s when I found out about a chromatic harmonica, which, via the slide button, has all the notes. It wasn’t until I bought one (CX12 in image above) that I realized that the layout is far less useful for playing chords than that of a diatonic harmonica (image below).
These limitations of diatonic and chromatic harmonicas are actually what got me started thinking about what would eventually become the ergordica. I wanted a similar level of portability while still making use of the breath but with all the notes of the scale and the ability to play them simultaneously for chords etc. What I ended up with was independent buttons instead of blow holes. The ergordica isn’t quite as portable as a harmonica, but it addresses my biggest gripes with the harmonica.
Another advantage of the ergordica over the harmonica–an unexpected one this time–is that, by only breathing out to play, you can have deeper and more relaxed breathing not dictated by the notes you’re playing. You see, by some notes on the harmonica requiring blows and others requiring draws, you can end up with very different and sometimes jagged breath patterns depending on what you are playing. I find the long deep breaths used for the ergordica to be more relaxing and intuitive. On the downside though, the ergordica does require a lot of air, especially when playing chords. I bet it’s on a similar level as a flute or tuba. I’d actually designed some early versions of the ergordica to work with both in and out breath, which would be less taxing on the lungs as you don’t have to take sudden big in-breaths. However, the inside of the ergordica can get quite mucky from all the moisture, and you don’t want to breath in air from there. The electronic version of the ergordica might be a different matter.
Yet another advantage of the ergordica over a harmonica is that all the notes can be played without re-positioning the instrument. With a harmonica, you have to re-position your mouth to different holes. This is fairly difficult to master and novices will tend to hit some wrong notes. It also can look a bit silly in my opinion, almost like you’re gorging yourself furiously on a tasty cob of corn. On the other hand, there really is no limit to the number of holes a harmonic can have and so they commonly span three octaves or even more, which can be handy. The tenor ergordica, on the other hand, only spans two octaves. Future versions will have more octaves though, and the electronic version has as many as you want.
There was also an unexpected downside to the ergordica compared to the harmonica. That’s the expression that can be used to play notes. With a harmonica, the mouth is very close to the reads, and this helps a lot with expression. Also, having draw and blow reeds of different pitches in the same cavities permits bending of the notes. The ergordica doesn’t have this. The only way you can bend notes on an ergordica is to partially depress the corresponding key and blow harder. This works, and perhaps one could get good at it. But I doubt one could ever be as expressive as is possible with the harmonica. Once again though, the electronic ergordica may eventually offer up new possibilities.
There are also differences in maintenance and the kind of problems you can have between a harmonica and an ergordica. Harmonicas, particularly chromatic ones, have valves (windsavers) to ensure reeds sound only when the intended direction of air flow occurs (blow or draw). These valves can be a big nuisance. Luckily, the ergordica doesn’t need them. But it does have a lot of buttons and gaskets that require some work, and also will make the ergordica more expensive than the harmonica to produce.
In summary, the pros and cons of an ergordica compared to a harmonica are as follows: